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Vendetta did not consider himself to be an impetuous man. Perhaps, on occasion, he could admit to letting his temper get the better of him—times when rage filled him and there was nothing left but purpose and the desire for bloodshed—but he liked to think he was rational. Patient. Like all true predators, he could wait decades to spring a trap if need be. For all his reputation, not a soul ever seemed to see him coming. But he was in Lightside at the moment, where his reputation didn’t really mean anything and so it was a moot point.

Dusk had begun to fall over London, bathing the city in a watery golden-orange glow. Vendetta’s car slunk through the city streets like a prowling cat, the engine little more than a faint purr as they made their way back to his flat through the heavy traffic. He paid little mind to the Lightsiders, however—instead, electing to scribble down notes in a small journal. Lightside was…dull. Tame. Certainly the technology was of some interest to him, but, for the most part, to live here was to live in tedium. Not that Darkside was much better at times, but the principle was the part that counted. And he had business here at present, which made it matter even less.

Traffic began to thin for a touch as the car wound its way south east. Cool, damp air flooded into the limo’s back seat through a cracked window. The chill almost reminded him of evenings at the Heights; of storms that shook the study windows and rain echoing through the greenhouse. Home. A faint prickle of unease momentarily disrupted his veneer of effortless calm. It had been years, and Holborn was long dead, but the thought of his home falling into someone else’s hands still sent waves of ire through him along with the paranoid thought of “what if?” He tried to clear the thought with a mental reminder that most of his enemies were either dead or cowards and, those that were neither, were currently in no position to test him…it only worked so far. Perhaps there was some truth after all to the notion that he was becoming a homebody.

The crackle of the radio from the driver’s seat intruded on his thoughts, prompting a frown. It would have been nearly inaudible to a human, but it grated on Vendetta’s ears like harsh static. The beginnings of a frown settling over his features, he closed his book with a snap and leaned forward to activate the intercom.

“Yann,” he began exasperatedly, only to pause. Wings flapping above them, panicked and agitated. Bats—noctules, if he was right about their size. But they should have been hibernating at this time of year. Personal issues with Yann’s radio momentarily forgotten, Vendetta attempted to focus on the bats’ chittering squeaks. Angry. Frightened. The outraged chatter of creatures displaced from their homes.

“Yes, sir?” came the tentative reply; Yann’s voice was tinged with the nervousness of someone uncertain if they were in trouble, but he’d also shut off the radio.

That was when he noticed it: the scent of blood in the air. Too strong for a minor injury and vaguely familiar in odour…almost like he’d tasted it long ago. Even stranger, it stank of Darkside and there were no crossings in the immediate area. The familiarity of the scent was beginning to nag at him. Vendetta did not consider himself to be impulsive, but if curiosity was a sin then it was safe to say it was one he indulged in. “Pull up on your left and stop the car.”

“Very good, sir.” If Yann found the instructions, or the lack of reasoning behind them, perplexing he gave no indication. Merely did as he was told and killed the engine when he was no longer blocking the road.

It was finally dark enough that Vendetta didn’t need to retrieve his sunglasses before slipping out of the car. There was an odd sense of stillness to the air—like entering a holy place, though he knew this was no such place. Something had fouled the air, scaring off the small, scuttling creatures that usually called back alleys their home. Back on the street, there were people hurrying about on the sidewalks, but none seemed aware anything was amiss and no one appeared to notice him. But the scent of blood was stronger now, hammering away at his senses like a rough tide, and he was certain he was headed in the right direction.

He stepped deeper into the darkness, footsteps silent against the tarmac. On the street, someone drove by with their bass volume too high—it thundered painfully in his ears and threaded tension through his spine. He came out into a tiny courtyard that probably would have only just been able to hold a single car. Office buildings crowded around, silent onlookers to an empty close. Puddles had formed at the corners of the courtyard and the air had a stagnant, musty feel despite the cold.

Vendetta was unsurprised to find a body sprawled under the overhang of a closed roll up garage, cast to the side like rubbish. What actually did surprise him, however, was the identity of the prone figure.

Well, well, well, Starling, he thought almost dryly, crouching elegantly beside him. What did you interfere with this time?

A trio of thin wounds were barely visible through the boy’s bloodstained shirt—almost as though something with claws had elected to stab him instead of slashing at him. Remarkably, despite the amount of blood he’d lost, Jonathan Starling was still alive. Heartbeat faint and chest barely moving with each breath. He looked…vulnerable and the growing urge to finish Starling off sent an involuntary twitch through Vendetta’s fingers. He’d always suspected that Starling would be in over his head without Carnegie’s protection and it was somewhat gratifying to learn he was correct.

It was almost a shame, though. He’d never told the boy, but he’d always—somewhat grudgingly—thought him to be remarkable. Only human, and yet capable of surviving creatures that were so many times stronger than him. He didn’t have to like Starling to respect his determination and stubbornness. And to have it all end with him bleeding out in an alley….

Vendetta paused, blue eyes flicking upwards to make sure no one was looking down on him from the surrounding buildings. It occurred to him that this was possibly a Very Bad Thing. Something he definitely should not have happened across. The sort of discovery that could make things very awkward for him. Certainly, he could pretend he’d seen nothing and leave Starling to die, but there was always a chance of witnesses and he’d spent enough time around police officers to know just how easy it would be for evidence to link him to the location. Leaving the boy was not really a logical option. However, the same problem arose with the idea of dropping Starling at an A&E—cameras, witnesses, doctors and nurses willing to tell Starling’s parents about the mysterious blond man who brought their son in. Alain and Theresa Starling weren’t exactly in awe of him…given one had stabbed him and the other—well, either way, him carrying their son’s dying body into a hospital wouldn’t exactly help to endear him to them (not that he particularly cared what any of the Starlings thought of him personally). He didn’t need that kind of attention.

The ideal solution would be to dump Starling onto one of his friend’s doorsteps and get out of there as quickly as possible. But there was a problem with that: Starling’s friends would immediately suspect him of attacking the boy. And he had no proof that he wasn’t to blame. Marianne would gladly help the boy, but she and Vendetta’s relationship had never fully recovered after the Crimson Stone debacle; starting a war, even an unintentional one, with Marianne would be…troublesome. And then there was Harry. The youngest Ripper—and the newest ruler of Darkside—had always been close to Starling. Unfortunately, despite Vendetta and Harry’s father, James, having been close friends, that friendship had not extended to James’s family members. Harry’s distrust of him put Vendetta on shaky ground even without Harry assuming he’d attempted to kill his best friend. Much like his aunt, Harry’s reaction would be…unfavourable.

Of course, there was always Raquella. Her loyalty (as questionable as it sometimes was) and her affection for Starling would work in Vendetta’s favour. However, he was also aware that everyone he wanted to avoid would be made aware of his involvement the instant Raquella was out of his presence. Even if she would vouch for him, was it worth the risk?

Unmoving, he had the uncomfortable feeling that time was running out to decide. Leave him. Leave him. Leave him. The thought chased itself around his head and he was dimly aware that it echoed Starling’s pulse. He already knew what he was going to do; he just didn’t want to admit it to himself. But there was nothing for it…

A long-suffering sigh escaped him. Grimacing at himself, he picked up the boy’s book bag (it was damp from the pavement, but, oddly enough, it didn’t appear anyone had picked through it), shifted it to his shoulder, and lifted Starling into his arms. The boy wasn’t much heavier than he recalled…not that that was comforting. Questioning his choices in life, he made his way back to the limo.

Yann leapt from the car at his employer’s approach and immediately went to get the back door from him. It was clear Yann had questions—they were all but written across his face—but something in Vendetta’s expression must have convinced him not to ask. Instead, he stepped respectfully out of the way and, when Vendetta had gotten both Starling and himself into the seat, finally enquired, “Where to, sir?”

“The flat.” 

As the car pulled out of the alleyway, Vendetta once more wondered what exactly he was doing. This was not, by any means, how he’d ever imagined “getting” Starling. And it had raised one very large question: now that he had the boy, what was he supposed to do with him?

 ~ * ~ 

He was awoken a couple hours before dawn by a loud noise. At first, it didn’t quite penetrate his consciousness what exactly the noise in question was, and then he realised it was screaming. Long, lurid wails of pain—over-enthusiastic, perhaps, but no less pleasant for it. A thought nagged at the back of his mind, concerned, but the flat was soundproofed so it wasn’t as though the neighbours were going to call the police. He’d nearly drifted back to sleep when it finally occurred to him that there wasn’t supposed to be anyone screaming. The boy…. 

He was awake and alert in an instant, shoving the blankets off his body and hurrying to his feet. If, for some unfathomable reason, he was ever questioned on the amount of haste demonstrated in his attempt to reach Starling quickly, he would deny every ounce of it. 

Bursting into the spare room, he found Starling writhing on the bedsheets. Back arched and feet scuffling for purchase against the mattress. His first thought was that the boy was going to bite off his tongue—which wasn’t all that bad of a thought, if not for the fact that it would be much harder to find out what, exactly, was wrong with him if Starling couldn’t speak. Holding him down, Vendetta was acutely aware this was not some strange seizure. It was more like something was trying to burn Starling from the inside out.

It was time to bring in someone better at this than him.

 ~ * ~

Raquella felt her imperious mask vanish as she watched her final scheduled client of the day scuttle out of the bank’s front door—actually scuttle, on all six of her spindly legs, only just visible through the gap between the older woman’s gown and the mosaicked floor. She felt her shoulders slump, finally relaxing. It never failed to amaze her just how concerned people acted about their valuables despite how willing they were to verbally attack those keeping said valuables safe. Still, it wasn’t so bad most days. And if she was finished early and there wasn’t an emergency she could usually go home without too much trouble.

The squeaks and flapping of the thousands of bats clinging to the ceiling was almost soothing, if somewhat difficult to hear, as she penned the necessary account adjustments into her ledger. Raquella had just leaned over to rummage in one of her desk drawers as someone stepped up to her station. She glanced up briefly before returning to her search. “Hello, Yann. It’s been some time, hasn’t it?”

In the golden light filtering in through the bank’s enormous stained-glass windows, Yann’s greasy hair looked even worse than usual. Raquella noted he wouldn’t stop fidgeting and his usually immaculate three-piece suit had been thrown on as though he were in a great hurry. She almost commented on it, but stopped herself at the last moment. Yann being here meant something was probably amiss and Raquella had no desire to risk her job (and, by extension, her means to ensure her siblings continued to grow up comfortably) with a sharp comment. Instead, she retrieved the folders she’d been looking for and feigned a lack of interest.

“Miss Joubert,” Yann replied by way of greeting. He sucked in a deep breath and added, “Miss, I need you to get your things together and come with me.”

“I’m almost done for the day, Yann,” she replied evenly, suspicion beginning to tug at her sternum. She paused, staring at her desk with a frown. “Did you see where my pen went?”

Yann held it up with a thin, humourless smile. “Vendetta asks that you join him…regardless of what you’re currently doing.”

Raquella snatched the pen back with a sigh. She’d had a feeling that was the case as soon as she’d set eyes upon him. She couldn’t imagine what he would need so abruptly but she was well aware that the answer to Vendetta’s summons were never “no”. Like a trained beast, you came when called. However, there was also five minutes left in her work day. Despite the lateness of the day, she knew there would be a great many people on the streets for hours yet. It was possible to stretch her getting ready to leave over these last few minutes…given how long the drive up to Savage Row and the Heights was, she doubted it would seem suspicious if it took just a bit longer. Still, the look on Yann’s face concerned her.

“Give me a moment, then,” Raquella said, gathering together her folders and papers.

“Immediately, he said.” Yann’s eyes never seemed to leave her face and Raquella forced herself to not show her discomfort. “And with haste.”

Raquella’s frown deepened and she narrowed her eyes, silently challenging him. “Look, I understand you’re doing your job, Yann, but so am I. And if you think I can just walk out of this building without turning in these documents, then you’re a fool who clearly doesn’t know enough about the man he’s working for.”

Yann’s expression remained impassive but his gaze briefly flicked upwards, to where the bats hung en masse. He gave a slow nod of acceptance, but made no attempts to remove himself from before her.

Plan to linger now thoroughly ruined, she hurriedly stacked everything together, picked up the stack, and stepped down from her podium. The bank was still crowded, almost every clerk was busy assisting someone and those that weren’t were either counting out money or scribbling away in ledgers. Raquella kept her head down and maneuvered her way through the crowds as swiftly as possible.

Mr. Worsley, the head clerk, sat at the far end of the room, his desk covered in stacks and stacks of paper that seemed to have overflowed onto the floor. He didn’t look up as Raquella carefully made her way up the stairs to him, instead electing to continue stamping and signing documents before moving them to a new stack for later sorting.

“You are early today, Miss Joubert,” Mr. Worsley observed disapprovingly, working as he spoke.

“I’m aware, sir,” she replied, making an effort to keep her tone apologetic and meek. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to be fired for this. Excuses kept drifting through her mind, but they all sounded pathetically weak.

“Are the additional account adjustments complete?” He finally accepted her stack from her, transferring certain pages to his desk and setting the rest of the stack on the floor beside him.

“I…no, sir, they’re not.” She felt her cheeks burn despite all attempts to look dignified. If she explained the situation, would he care? It was Vendetta’s bank, surely that meant something? Or would he think she was just attempting to name drop to get out of trouble? No one had attempted to lord her previous position as Vendetta’s maid over her yet, and she didn’t really want the other clerks to start. Even if they didn’t lay a hand to her, it would have been all too easy to make life much, much more difficult for her. “I—” She stopped, uncertain what to even say, and cast a helpless glance towards where Yann lurked, Raquella’s bag already in hand.

Mr. Worsley followed her gaze and the reaction was immediate. His posture shifted and his tiny eyes narrowed. Had he the mouth of a human and not of a leech, Raquella was certain he would have been frowning. Everyone who worked at the bank was well aware of who Yann was and who he worked for. Only Vendetta himself would have had more clout to pull her away without fuss.

Her boss remained silent a moment before reaching down and retrieving the largest of Raquella’s ledgers. “I want those new numbers by midnight on Sunday. No later,” he instructed, handing the ledger over. “Or you may find yourself searching for a new career.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And…please extend my regards?”

“I will, Mr. Worsley,” Raquella assured him, hugging the ledger to her chest as she turned to go. Relief swept through her and her steps seemed lighter and quicker than they had felt on the way to Mr. Worsley’s desk. The adjustments weren’t difficult at all. The only thing she’d have to be cautious of was getting them in on time…which ought to be easy, she assured herself, depending on what Vendetta wanted.

Yann seemed to be resisting the urge to tap his foot when Raquella finally reached him, but he handed over her bag and waited for her to slip the ledger in before enquiring, “Which way to your flat?”

Raquella paused, blinking confusedly at him. “Why do you care to know?”

“Vendetta suggested that you might wish to bring a change of clothing.”

The din of the crowds around her faded as thoughts swirled almost ominously through her head. What on earth could he want that would require her to pack a bag? Her mind instantly summoned visions of the incident with Cornelius Xavier and the Crimson Stone. That had been the first and last time Vendetta had unexpectedly pulled her away from her work and thrown her into a situation away from home…and she’d nearly been eaten. Still, this couldn’t possibly be as bad, could it? And what was a night or two at the Heights? She’d lived there for years; it would probably feel like she’d never left.

So why did she feel so uncertain?

“What does he want, Yann?” she murmured as he led her out of the bank.

For the first time she could remember, Yann’s expression softened slightly. He almost looked apologetic. “I couldn’t say, Miss Joubert.”

She followed him into a waiting carriage, hoping it wasn’t going to be as bad as she thought it would be. Raquella stared up at the bank’s single, crooked spire as they drove off. In the dark, it loomed over the street like a threat and Raquella had to force herself to look away. She hoped this would be a quick visit.

~ * ~

By the time Raquella had retrieved a change of clothing, both her and Yann’s patience with each other had vanished. They fell into a huffy silence that couldn’t quite hide the fact that Yann was as on edge as Raquella was.

She was surprised when, instead of directing the carriage towards Savage Row, Yann began steering them towards a well-hidden crossing point she’d only used once before. Despite her curiosity, she bit back a tide of questions. What on Darkside was Vendetta doing in Lightside? She was aware he often had business there, but that business rarely included her. In fact, the only times she’d really ever gone into Lightside were to help Jonathan. A twinge of what almost felt like loneliness stabbed through her gut. She missed Jonathan, even if she understood his reasons for temporarily remaining in Lightside. But that didn’t change the fact that Vendetta needing her in Lightside usually meant Jonathan was involved…and if Vendetta had gotten a hold of Jonathan, or was planning to cause harm to him, that was going to open up the gates for a lot more trouble. Harry wasn’t going to be happy.

Those thoughts followed her through the crossing point, not leaving even with the physical pain leaving Darkside brought about. She traded her seat in the carriage for the front passenger seat of a sleek sports car she’d never seen before. By the time they’d left Islington the pain was gone and Raquella had begun to accept that she probably wasn’t going to like whatever happened to her.

They continued south east in almost perfect silence. She watched the people on the streets as they eventually crossed the Thames. Couples, business people, groups of friends, tourists, children; all going to different places. Oblivious to Darkside’s existence. She wondered, briefly, what it would be like to be one of them—to have gone to school, to go to the cinema with friends or out dancing, to have gotten driving lessons, to own a mobile phone. They weren’t wistful thoughts, but they weren’t terrible, either. The thought that maybe her siblings would have had an easier life was nice to think of, but Darkside was home. And not knowing of it felt almost like losing a part of herself.

“We’re here,” Yann announced, slowly driving down into an underground garage and pulling into a parking space.

Raquella slowly got out of the car, staring around in unabashed amazement. So many cars…and all of them expensive and shiny. She was certain she could have purchased a house on Savage Row and a large portion of the Grand with the money it took to purchase just one of the cars. Something didn’t feel right, though. The air was silent, perfectly still, and Raquella felt the prickle of paranoia creep over her. As though there was some monster lying in wait just out of sight. She fidgeted and the rustling of her skirt sounded alarmingly loud to her straining ears.

“Ms. Joubert?”

Yann stood waiting by a lift at the back of the garage and, hesitating only briefly, she followed him. Her footsteps echoed off the walls like a heartbeat. She had never been more thankful of Yann’s presence than she was the moment she finally reached him and followed him into the lift.

Her stomach jolted as the lift began moving. It took far longer to reach their floor than she’d thought and she wasn’t entirely certain what to expect when the doors opened. Raquella was used to seeing Vendetta in Darkside; in the townhouse which boasted of Victorian elegance or at the Heights, which was sprawling, brooding, and Gothic in all aspects. Had she any hopes for what kind of place Vendetta would stay at in Lightside, she would have imagined some place like those she was familiar with. She would have been wrong. The doors opened to whitewashed walls and highly polished wooden floors. She barely noticed the décor—minimalistic, but hinting at comfort—instead transfixed by the view out of the windows. Heavy shutters had been pulled away from the large windows, revealing countless dots of lights speckled throughout the darkness. The city glowed like a galaxy—a kaleidoscope of light like stars. Raquella wasn’t sure she’d ever seen something so beautiful.

“You can leave now, Yann,” Vendetta remarked, startling Raquella out of her staring. She hadn’t noticed him, seated in the living room, on first glance. As the lift doors closed on Yann, the vampire set a book aside and rose to his feet.

Raquella was well aware there were a fair number of people who had been surprised and subsequently fooled by Vendetta’s apparent youth, but she didn’t really see it herself. In the loft’s harsh lighting he looked somewhat peaked and drawn, but not harmless. She immediately dropped into a respectful curtsy.

“Hello, Raquella,” he bid conversationally, removing his spectacles and placing them safely in his shirt’s pocket.

“Good evening, sir,” she replied. It was still hard to remember she no longer needed to keep her eyes down and her posture submissive, but, if she were being honest, she wasn’t trying very hard to break the habit. “Yann said you needed to see me?”

Vendetta remained silent for a moment, clearly lost in thought. He crossed half the distance between them before stopping and saying, “I would say that what I’m about to show you does not leave this building; however, given your previous predilections, I’m more than aware of how unlikely it is that it will remain quiet. I’ll be blunt: I need your help.”

The flush that had burned its way onto her cheeks at his previous words had vanished. She felt cold, her stomach knotted with concern. “I…don’t understand, sir.”

“The door on your left.”

Apprehensive and wary, Raquella opened the door to a bedroom that was larger than her sitting room back home. Her gaze was immediately drawn to the body on the bed.

“Jonathan!” Raquella couldn’t recall the last time she’d moved so fast. Her skirts tangled about her ankles as she flocked to his side and dropped down to sit beside him. It had been years since she’d last seen him—standing beside Carnegie’s grave in the dusk as rain fell over Bleakmoor. He’d grown up—his face was thinner and his shoulders were broader. However, in this moment, older did not mean better. He looked terrible. His face was flushed with fever and drenched with sweat, matting his brown hair to his forehead. His shirt was gone and a thick bandage had been taped down on his upper abdomen, a tinge of pink showing through the cotton-y material.

As her surprise faded, ice seeped into her veins. What on Darkside was Jonathan doing here? Vendetta and Jonathan had never gotten along—at most, they tolerated each other, but Raquella had always suspected Vendetta was biding his time until it suited him best…and Jonathan feared the vampire’s retribution more than he cared to admit. Jonathan would never have come to Vendetta for help on his own. But it wasn’t in Vendetta’s way to injure an enemy and then bandage their wounds.

“Oh, Jonathan, what happened to you?” Raquella breathed, pressing a hand to his cheek.

“I found him in this state,” Vendetta informed her from the doorway; Raquella hadn’t heard him approach and, any other time, would have been ashamed to discover he could still sneak up on her. “There was no indication how it happened.”

“His wounds don’t appear to be infected but he’s burning with fever,” she murmured, more to herself than to either man. “He needs a doctor or a hospital—”

Raquella,” he interrupted sharply. It was only once he was certain he had her attention that, with a surprising gentleness, he added, “I called for a doctor…they were unable to help.”

She stared up at him, trying and failing to collect her thoughts. His expression was unreadable, but there was something about his eyes that made it impossible to look away. Like he was attempting to drive a point home without voicing it. Suspicion tingled at the back of her mind—she could feel it like a twitching under her skin. “Sir,” she began slowly, “why am I here? Saving him…forgive me for being blunt, sir, but random acts of kindness are not in your repertoire. Not usually.”

“No, they’re not,” he agreed. “I do not care if Starling survives, but given the current climate—despite my personal feelings on the matter, it would be unwise to allow myself to become embroiled in a conflict due to a misunderstanding.” He looked away with a sigh and, as though the words would pain him if he lingered over them, continued in a rush, “I am not in the habit of begging for things, Raquella, but I don’t know what to do and I need your counsel.”

“…I…I understand, sir,” she replied. Raquella was uncertain whether or not she was surprised to find she truly did understand. Self-preservation, after all, wasn’t an uncommon trait for a Darksider. Nor was she oblivious to how little Harry trusted Vendetta—if he was one of the people her former master was concerned over, everything suddenly made a lot more sense. Irregardless, Jonathan could not die; she wouldn’t let him, not while she had a chance to do something. She gathered herself, welcoming whatever calm she could summon up, and took a deep breath. “If a doctor couldn’t help, there has to be some other means. It just has to be discovered.”

They went over what Vendetta had already tried to use to help Jonathan, slowly discussing how each attempt had affected Jonathan but failing to come up with any new information of use. Raquella checked his wounds, frowning to herself. All three punctures were clean and only one was still bleeding—and even that was only a small trickle. Jonathan’s skin wasn’t swollen or discoloured, and he didn’t react when she prodded at the wound site. There was no sign of pus or odd discharge. When asked, Vendetta relayed that he was unable to smell infection but, while it put Raquella’s mind to ease somewhat, it didn’t really help. Eventually, they both fell into a contemplative silence.

Outside, the stars twinkled an impassive vigil as a thin crescent moon slowly sunk to the horizon.

This is hopeless, Raquella thought, sagging into her armchair. The clock had bypassed midnight some time ago and weariness had seeped into Raquella’s bones. They’d moved their conversation out of the spare room and into the living room—the girl eventually fetching a couple mugs of tea in a weak attempt at helping her thoughts progress faster.

“Jonathan isn’t going to make it, is he?” she finally enquired, tentatively shattering the room’s quiet.

“No. He will succumb and pass.” He paused, shifting slightly in his seat, and then added with intrigue: “Unless he was made immune to death.”

Raquella felt as though the air had been sucked from her lungs. The sudden urge to move swept over her and she jolted up, shifting from foot to foot to keep from walking away. “I—make him into—” she paced a couple steps away and stopped— “Jonathan wouldn’t like that.”

The look on Vendetta’s face said he didn’t much like it either, but that he could see no other option. Raquella really didn’t want to agree with him. Turning Jonathan…in a vampire? It might save him, but at what cost? She’d seen how much her former master had suffered from his condition. And how cruel it made him. Imagining Jonathan becoming like him was painful. But she also thought about Alain and Theresa and how the Starlings had finally become a family again. What was worse: letting their son die or turning him into a beast?

“Will it work?” she finally whispered, barely able to get the words out.

“Perhaps.”

She nodded, thinking it over. Unable to voice her agreement, she met his gaze and nodded once more. Then do it.

Vendetta didn’t immediately move, and Raquella wasn’t certain if he had understood she was agreeing or if he was just setting his thoughts in order. In a single, smooth movement, he rose and began walking back down the hallway.

Forgive me, Jonathan. Unable and unwilling to follow him, she dropped back into her chair. All that was left was to wait. And hope.

Chapter Text

The morning dawned partially cloudy but still strangely bright. Jonathan could feel the light burning, pressing against his eyelids. His breath hissed sharply in. Aches erupted through his body as he shifted. But this bed…it felt softer than his. The angle of the light pouring in through what he assumed was a window’s shutters was wrong, too. Had he slept all day? Groaning, he stretched, rolling further onto his back. He forced his eyes open with a stifled yawn.

He didn’t recognise this room. It had that manufactured, magazine-minimalist look that seemed fake and too rehearsed—like a person could never live there. And something about the smell—or the lack thereof—was familiar. He tried to sit up. Failed. His fingers roved numbly over the bandage on his bare chest; it did nothing to help his confusion. Where am I? He felt his breath quicken, gaze darting about the place as though it would grant him answers. Why am I here?

Groaning, he forced himself to sit up. His mobile and his missing clothes sat innocently on the nightstand beside the bed; his book bag in a chair in the corner of the room. His head had started to pound. Jonathan reached warily for his clothes and yanked his t-shirt on. As he stuffed his feet into his shoes, fumbling with a wince to get the laces tied, he tried to pull his thoughts together. What do I remember? he asked himself. The only very recent memory he could conjure up had to do with his university classes. Unfortunately, most of his life seemed to revolve around his classes these days, so that was as unhelpful as anything could ever be. He’d have to investigate this place if he wanted answers. He slipped his mobile into his pocket and shrugged into jacket.

The door’s latch clicked. He looked up as the door opened and, almost immediately, felt someone throw their arms around him.

“Jonathan!” a woman gasped, voice muffled by his shirt. “You’re awake. I was so worried.”

Vision obscured by a large quantity of curled, vividly red hair, it took a second for him to recognise the voice. “Raquella? What…what are you doing here?”

Wrong question, he thought too late.

But it was a different voice that answered: “I asked her to join us.”

Jonathan didn’t really recall moving. Taking himself by surprise, he found he’d thrown himself back, scrabbling away until he’d stumbled off the other side of the bed. He hadn’t intended on doing it. But the second he’d connected the voice to its owner, ice had flooded his veins. Jonathan had been overwhelmed with a flood of panic that hadn’t afflicted him in years. He was dimly aware of Raquella staring, surprised, at him.

From the doorway, just out of daylight, he saw Vendetta’s lips curl in faint amusement.

“Why am I here?” Jonathan managed to bite out. He directed the question to Raquella, but was finding it hard to tear his gaze away from her former master. Inching toward his book bag, he watched as Raquella threw a nervous, clearly questioning stare towards Vendetta.

The tension did nothing for his already ruined nerves.

Scooping up his bag, Jonathan made for the doorway. If this was the same flat he’d visited with Vendetta before, he vaguely recalled the layout enough that he thought he might be able to find the way out on his own. But he couldn’t stay here. Two seconds away from panic with his thoughts a buzzing mess.

“I—never mind. It’s alright. I have—I need to go.”

“Jonathan, no,” Raquella began, even as Vendetta gestured invitingly towards the far end of the hall as if to hurry him along. She rose quickly, skirts swishing about her ankles as she followed him out into the hallway. “You’re not well. You shouldn’t go out in this state.”

“I feel fine,” he assured her, pressing the call button for the lift. A twinge of concern spiked through him. What happened to me? Raquella had always been practical and curt, even when he'd been injured. She didn't fret. Or...she didn’t fret over him.

“You might not—”

“Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but, unless you can tell me what happened to me—” he paused, waiting for an explanation that didn’t seem to be forthcoming— “then I need to go.” In a much gentler voice, Jonathan added, “There’s—it’s a lot, you know? And I promised dad I wouldn’t have anything to do with Darkside until I graduated. I can’t...I’m sorry for whatever happened. If I did it, I mean. But I can’t....” He trailed awkwardly into silence as though that would explain anything. There was an odd look in Raquella’s eyes that he didn’t understand, but he wasn’t in the state to ponder it right now.

With seeming reluctance, she exhaled and gave him a short nod. “I understand. It was...nice to see you.”

Unsure why it sounded like she was lying, he offered her a grim, awkward smile. He could feel Vendetta’s gaze follow him into the lift, but no one moved to stop his escape. Watching the doors close, he found he didn’t feel any less awful than he had in the bedroom. He told himself he just needed to get out. He hoped it was the truth.

~ * ~

Raquella watched the doors close with mounting trepidation. She’d never seen Jonathan flee like that before. Then again…she didn’t really know what Jonathan had gone through in these last few years. What sort of life he currently had for himself. But something had him scared and she was willing to bet it wasn’t just Vendetta.

“Sir, is it…safe to let him go?” It didn’t seem like a good idea, but Vendetta hadn’t indicated Jonathan should stay. Nor had he moved to stop him.

“For the moment.”

He looked eerily calm, but Raquella was certain he was doing some quick thinking. He pushed off from where he’d been leaning against the wall. She followed, hesitantly, as he returned to the living room.

“He’ll return on his own. The only way to coerce Starling into doing something he doesn’t want to do, without fuss, is to let him think he must do it himself,” Vendetta went on, returning to his seat.

Raquella frowned, electing to remain standing as he tapped at the buttons on his mobile. She didn’t agree. Jonathan had a bit of a heroic streak, she knew. He had been stubborn and petulant, but he’d always tried to do good. Even when he was focused on personal things, he still helped others. Then again, Jonathan and Vendetta didn’t get along. Their…chats usually ended with neither of them having the upper hand and both of them regretting it.

“Is there a problem, Raquella?”

She looked up to find Vendetta watching her. His blue eyes seemed to look through her, cutting through her thoughts to whatever secrets she held within. She lowered her gaze. Made herself incline her head.

“No, sir.”

~ * ~

It was halfway across Tower Bridge that Jonathan’s head cleared enough for him to think he might be making a mistake. He should have at least waited until after someone had explained what was going on. His memory felt like it was being obscured by a fogbank. A hazy wall of nothingness where something should have been. The crowds around him felt suffocating. Realising he’d frozen in the middle of the pedestrian walk, he lurched into motion again. He needed…somewhere safe. Somewhere to clear his head.

He managed to make it to the Tower Hill tube station and caught a train on the Circle Line. There were enough empty seats for him to be able to sit down. Clutching his bag to his chest, he knew he didn’t look in a right way. He didn’t feel right. His heart felt…fluttering. Pounding quickly and unsteadily through his body. He couldn’t seem to catch a steady breath. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice him. He was able to suffer through the journey without interruption.

He feigned a calm he didn’t feel as he hurried to his flat. Upon entering, the rooms felt still and too quiet. Slumped against the door, he almost felt like something was lying in wait for him; watching from the shadows of the rooms. He slowly dropped his bag beside the door.

Jonathan flicked on the light and tried to think. He didn’t know what to do. Going back to Vendetta and begging for answers felt like a ridiculous option. At the same time, it wasn’t as though any of his friends or family members could help him and he wasn’t entirely certain he wanted to involve them before he knew what was happening. Hadn’t they been through enough?

Brain on autopilot, he pottered about, making something to eat to ease the ache in his stomach. He plugged in his mobile as he munched. He briefly noted it was already well-past noon. The date seemed wrong to him and there was a slew of notifications waiting for him—a voice mail from his parents, half a dozen texts from Kate, and a few more texts from a group he occasionally studied with. He flicked through his texts as he listened to the voicemail. No one seemed think anything was wrong, but there was still a kernel of guilt in his gut. As if he’d done something wrong. Or was disappointing someone. It lingered as he tapped out a few replies.

He dropped the phone onto the kitchen counter, thinking hard. He had class in about an hour, though it seemed like an unimportant priority at the moment. It would be good to go, he told himself. Kate had always told him that mundane activities helped with clearing her mind. At the same time, it felt wrong. Like he shouldn’t be doing it.

With a frustrated grumble, he wandered towards the bathroom to take a shower. He didn’t bother looking in the mirror as he turned on the water and started stripping down—he already knew what he’d see: a thin, lanky man with unruly brown hair and a perpetually tired and lost expression etched into his grey eyes. He was sure he looked as sickly as his body felt. After a brief hesitation, he pried the bandage off his chest. A trio of thin scars adorned his abdomen. He didn’t remember getting them, but they looked like they’d been there a while. Couldn’t be…they wouldn’t have been bandaged if they had. But how had they healed so quickly if they were recent?

Weirdness aside, he did feel better for having cleaned up. He’d had just enough time to think up how to deal with this situation. Everything about this reeked of Darkside. Not just because Vendetta and Raquella were, somehow, involved, but the general weirdness of the situation also felt like it. Despite all the work he’d been doing to avoid Darkside recently, it had still found him. He couldn’t avoid his responsibilities in Lightside, but he had to look into this. And, if his flat and his belongings couldn’t tell him what was happening, then it was time to break his promise. To go back to Darkside. If he could find Harry and Marianne, they could help him and this would be over quickly.

First things first, he reminded himself as he went to grab his bag. His stomach was already grumbling with hunger again. I need to get to class.

~ * ~

Sitting down in a lecture, surrounded by ordinary people made him feel like a fraud. He kept his head down and forced himself to take notes, avoiding eye contact with everyone. He had this ridiculous feeling that something was looming over him. A dark shadow others would be able to see if he made an effort to directly address anyone. It didn’t help that, by the time he’d reached the lecture hall, his head had begun to pound once more. Keep it together, he told himself as the last of his fellow students filed into the hall.

Half an hour into the lecture, he started wishing this was a class he had stronger feelings for. If he’d liked it, he could have pushed through on passion alone. If he’d hated it, he could have formed long, annoyed rants in his head to distract himself. As it was, the meandering drawl of his teacher grated uncomfortably against his ears. He was aware of every shuffle and fidget from the students around him as he'd never been before—the hissing shh of shoes scuffing across the floor, the tap-tap-tap and click-click of pens in the hands of people who were desperately attempting to coax their thoughts into working, the rustling of someone rooting about in their bag. And, under it all, the dull rushing of a heartbeat. Thudding too loud. Pressing against his ears over and over again. The lights felt too hot, abruptly too bright—like a desert sun in mid-summer. The perfume the girl in the seat beside him was wearing threatened to suffocate him. Turning his stomach. The feeling he’d had while crossing Tower Bridge had returned. The entire hall pushed against him, drowning him, stuffed against his senses until there was no way to push it away. He wanted to run but he'd frozen in his seat, unable to move.

Sucking down a breath that didn’t want to escape his throat, he tried to find a place to focus on. Finding one, he willed himself to breath slowly. To force his muscles to relax. It wasn’t working but the need to flee had begun to seep from his body. Then he realised he was staring at the neck of the person in front of him. Eyes trained at the point where their pulse pressed against their skin. Through the nausea roiling in his gut, a wave of hunger swept through him. He'd never felt so hungry in his life.

He forced his gaze down to the blank page he’d failed to fill with notes. The edges of the page's lines seemed to wiggle like gentle waves. Calm, calm. Try to breathe. It’ll pass

The mantra lasted him until the end of class. Shaking slightly, he followed the stream of students outside. Immediately he was buffeted by a wave of sound and scent. His stomach lurched. Bile burned at his throat. 

Mentally swearing, he stumbled into the nearest bathroom; edging around a couple men that were chatting near the door, he barely made it into a stall before he was sick. He could hear one of the guys laughing about a hangover. Jonathan thought it felt a bit more like the worst flu of his life. Everything hurt; he'd never before felt so certain his body was out to get him. And yet, even as the meagre contents of his stomach vacated his body, there was still a gnawing, all-consuming hunger that made him feel like his stomach was being ripped to pieces.

Vendetta knew this would happen. The memory of his smooth, almost too casual, dismissal intruded in Jonathan’s thoughts. Watching people wasn’t uncommon for Vendetta—in Jonathan’s experience he’d seemed to enjoy seeing others’ reactions to incidents that elicited a strong reaction—but it wasn’t like him to have nothing to say. Nor was it like him to not act. But...did that really confirm the Darkside connection?

Rising on unsteady feet, he plodded over to the sinks to wash up. His hands didn’t feel like the right distance from himself. What am I supposed to do? He briefly entertained the thought of calling his parents and asking for help. He couldn't imagine it going well. “Hi, do you remember Vendetta and how many times he’s tried to ruin our lives? Well, I woke up in his flat late this morning and now I’m horribly sick and I don’t know what to do now.” No, that conversation wouldn’t go well at all. He supposed he could wait, see if it got worse, and then check himself into a hospital. But he loathed hospitals. And, in his experience, Lightside doctors, for all their good intentions, were always baffled by illnesses and injuries to do with Darkside. It wasn’t like he could cross over and get information that way, either—with how he currently felt, he doubted he could make it into the Rotten Borough (not to mention that most of the doctors he’d met in Darkside were creepy and threatening to the point where he’d rather suffer the injuries than deal with the doctors). Huffing a frustrated breath, he frowned at his reflection in the mirror. He almost wished he had a way to contact Raquella—to ask her what she had wanted to say before he’d run off. He wasn’t about to go find Vendetta just to get answers. He didn’t think Vendetta would be eager to share them, anyway.

Dreading another onslaught of sound and smells, Jonathan attempted to brace himself as he stepped back into the hall. The river of students had degraded to a meagre trickle. He didn’t think he’d make it through his other class today. Instead, he joined the few remaining groups intent upon leaving the grounds. His teeth sunk into his cheek in a poor attempt to guard against the tension building within him; he winced against the pain but made no effort to stop. He tried to slip around a rowdy group of students that were loudly chattering about their weekend plans. And then he was free. He vanished into the city with the faint hope that maybe he'd be able to go home and find sanctuary.

~ * ~

The sun was just beginning to lean towards the horizon as he neared his street. He’d taken the long way home, but his efforts to avoid excess stimuli were for naught—the panic and pain he'd felt earlier had faded, leaving him with nothing but a haze of lethargy. And hunger. He didn’t understand why he was so hungry. Even after forcing himself to grab a bite on the way back he still felt starved. As he approached his flat, however, he found he didn’t have time to dwell on it.

There was a small park settled a street or so away from his flat. He spotted Raquella, waiting for him on a bench just inside it; her hair standing out like a beacon. She still wore her Darkside clothes, but the few people also wandering through the park didn’t seem to notice her. He hesitated, briefly, before walking over to sit beside her.

“How did you find me?” he enquired after a long moment had passed.

Raquella’s gaze flicked towards a silver-y grey Mercedes sitting idly at the street corner. “Vendetta…decided it was time.”

“That doesn’t explain much.”

“I know it doesn’t.” She stared down at her hands, frowning contemplatively. Fidgeting with her hands against the thick material of her skirt. In a rush, she added, “I’m sorry, Jonathan. I didn’t know what to do and it was the only option we could come up with that seemed likely.”

“I don’t—” he hopped anxiously to his feet, pacing— “look, what’s going on? What’s happening to me? Why was—why am I—?”

“How are you feeling?” Raquella interrupted, staring up at him. Beneath her concern, her gaze was calculating and cautious.

Jonathan froze mid-step. Staring down at her, he swallowed with difficulty.  Very slowly, he relayed what had happened during his lecture and how he’d been feeling the rest of the day. His words felt stilted, descriptions inadequate. The look Raquella gave him as he finished speaking made him uncomfortable. Dread made him feel even worse. A concern had sprung up within his mind—a suspicion, unlikely though it was, chipped at his consciousness. He tried to tell himself he was wrong, but Raquella gave him nothing to cling to. Instead, she remained silent for a very long moment. A breeze swept through the park, rustling the dying shrubbery and spiralling dried leaves across the ground. The shadows had grown long, the air bitter.

“You were dying,” Raquella finally murmured.

The words didn’t seem to want to penetrate his consciousness. “…what?”

Raquella shifted, avoiding his gaze. “Vendetta called for me—you were dying when he found you. There was no reasoning why. There was nothing we could do and no way to stop it. He thought….”

She broke off with a faint sigh, still avoiding looking at him.

“Thought what?” Jonathan asked, alarmed. The seed of suspicion was growing. But so was that that voice of panicked denial, rising in the back of his mind. “What did he do?”

The stare she fixed him with was guilty and sorrowful. Again she said, “I’m so sorry. If there had been another way—”

No.” The reality of realisation had shot through him in a painful surge. Burning in his veins, curdling in his gut. He stumbled back a step as if to push the concept away. “No. He—he wouldn’t. Vendetta wants me dead. Why…why would he make me…like him?”

The words felt foul and strange. He’d never thought he’d have to ask someone why they’d elected to turn him into, of all things, a vampire. It sounded preposterous. Like something from a bad novel. It made no sense to him, either. Vendetta loathed him.

Still another part of his mind was whirling. Was this…what being a vampire felt like? It was nothing like he’d imagined. On the very few occasions he’s considered it, he’d assumed immortality felt powerful and steadfast. This felt horrible. He felt like he was still dying, body ripping itself to shreds.

Raquella frowned, straightening up. “I don’t think you realise how important you are. Nor to how many people. Before you left, Harry declared you off-limits to harm—you’re the first person, not a Ripper, that I’ve ever heard of receiving that protection. As far as I know, he never rescinded that rule. Marianne is fond of you—to the point where she would rather put herself in harm’s way than let anything happen to you. And your parents…they may only be human, but they’ve both crossed Vendetta and lived to speak of it; neither of them would hesitate to fight him again. And…and I would not tolerate it, either. You have so many people who care about you, who wouldn’t stand for your harm. Vendetta would not risk starting such a war.”

Jonathan slowly sat down beside her, slumping against the bench. He sucked down a shaky breath. He couldn’t seem to find words.

After a long moment, Raquella produced a flask from her skirts and held it out to him. “I nearly forgot, this may help.”

He hesitated before accepting it. “I’ve been away from Darkside a long time. That changes things, Raquella.”

“We understood why you had to leave. We’re not going to stop being your friends for that.”

Discomfort and something like guilt brought a flush to his face. Even after all this time, he was still unused to people caring about him. Or to anyone worrying about him. After a youth spent wandering alone, unsure what his father was doing or if he’d even survive his next hospital trip, something as simple as getting told off for forgetting to phone felt foreign to him. Having friends that understood that his absence wasn’t avoidance seemed just as unthinkable as the notion of friends themselves had once been. Jonathan wasn’t sure what to feel. Avoiding what he thought might be shame, he absently opened the flask. Sweetness and cinnamon greeted him—a scent like those spiced teas that got worse and more medicinal tasting the more expensive they got. This, however, wasn’t too bad. It just tasted like tea. But he could feel his pain fade until only lethargy remained.

He stared down at the flask, feeling the warmth of it press against his hands. A part of him was still tempted to return to his flat, get some rest, and hope everything would be fine in the morning. But he knew that wasn’t the case. Vampirism. It still sounded ridiculous. Unfortunately denial, despite how appealing it seemed to the alternative, achieved nothing.

Armed with nothing but his assumptions, Jonathan said, “You think I should ask him for help.”

Her gaze flicked towards the Mercedes once more. Her features momentarily creased with concern. “He’s offering to show you how to control whatever abilities you might acquire. I can’t see the harm in that.”

“Yeah, sounds like a right barrel of laughs,” Jonathan muttered, sarcasm dripping like blood from his lips.

Raquella silenced him with a sharp glare. “True, you despise each other, but would you rather have a bit of discomfort now or would you rather risk discovering you can’t handle it on your own?”

Cold slipped beneath his skin, having nothing to do with the weather. He knew there were times when Vendetta had been desperate to feed. So desperate he’d abandoned reason and concern for his own well-being. What would happen to Jonathan in the same situation? Without centuries of control to aid him? All he could picture was the mangled bodies of his friends and family. Why didn’t I think of that before?

Eyes burning, he realised he didn’t have a choice. He could be a danger to others now. It wasn’t a risk he wanted to take.

“Jonathan?” Raquella enquired, her gentle voice cutting through his internal angst. She’d taken one of his hands in both of hers.

He didn’t understand how she could look at him like he was still the same idiot kid that had stumbled blindly into Darkside without an ounce of knowledge; like he was still innocent and ignorant. How she didn’t seem to think he could become something horrible. Monstrous. Then again…she’s always stood up for Vendetta, as well. Perhaps she just had more faith in them than they had in themselves.

“You’re right,” he said after a long moment. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Raquella offered a supportive, though nervous, smile. “Do you want me to stay with you?”

“Do you need to get back to Darkside?”

“Yes, but I can stay a while longer.”

Jonathan thought it over, thinking it over. Having her with him sounded appealing and comforting, but he didn’t think it was a good idea to use her as a mediator. How many times had he put Raquella at odds with Vendetta—whether or not it had been intentional? How many times had his actions made their relationship uncomfortable and unpleasant?

“No, I—I’ll make a go of it myself.”

“I think you’ll do fine.” She added after a brief second. “But, if something does happen—” she pulled a slip of paper from them folds of her skirt and handed it over— “you can always come find me.”

Attempting a smile, he slipped the paper into his pocket. This still felt like a bad idea. The thought of turning to Vendetta made him feel almost ill.

They lingered for a while, occasionally chatting about inconsequential things as Jonathan finished his tea. When they finally rose, meandering towards a parked car, he felt lighter. Hearing about what had been happening in his absence helped calm his mind where the tea had soothed his pain.

The light was fading, bathing the city in shadows. They’d reached the car. Almost abruptly, Jonathan found there was no longer any time left to procrastinate. Fidgeting, he tried to hand the flask back to Raquella.

“Keep it,” she said. “You may need it.”

“Thanks…for everything.”

“This isn’t goodbye forever.” The words seemed to reach his ears on a faint laugh.

“Just for now.”

“Yes. Once you’re adjusted, we can work on finding who attacked you to begin with.”

A real smile tugged at his lips at her use of “we”. It didn’t fade even as Raquella opened one of the Mercedes’ back doors. She paused, speaking for a moment in hushed tones, before pulling out a bag and closing the door behind her. There was a faint tension to their goodbyes that hadn’t been there when they had spoken earlier. When they finally finished, it was with bittersweet emotions.

Jonathan watched Raquella’s retreating form until he could no longer keep her in sight. Standing here in the growing dusk, his anxiety returned tenfold. He had to resist the urge to pace frustratedly. Twice he felt the mental tug to walk away from the car and, both times, he forced himself to shove the thought away, his heart thudding in his ears all the while. The fact that he could leave made it even harder to stay. He could refuse Vendetta, walk away, and…and….and what? What would happen if he refused? He thought he knew how Vendetta worked well enough to know the offer wouldn’t be extended a second time. (Then again, he’d never thought Vendetta would save his life; perhaps he understood less than he thought he did.) And, if he was right and he was a potential danger to the people closest to him…. Once again images sprang to mind—his parents, Kate, classmates whose names he couldn’t recall but who were pleasant when they noticed him—people he cared for torn asunder. Blood splattering the walls, coating his hands. His stomach twisted. With a wave of further revulsion, he realised he couldn’t tell if the twisting came from horror or hunger. I can’t do this.

Stuffing away his pride, Jonathan strode around to the passenger’s side, pulled open the door, and dropped into the seat. When the door was closed behind him, he made no effort to reach for the seatbelt nor to look at the man in the driver’s seat. Just sat there, trying to keep from shaking. The car was cold—somehow even more so than the outside street. And there was something...a faint scent: antiseptic and sterile, just masking the scent of decay, that never failed to remind him of a morgue. It was doing nothing to help calm his nerves.

But he could feel eyes on him, piercing and enquiring, and Jonathan chanced a glance out of the corner of his eye. In the gloom, Vendetta's pale skin seemed almost luminescent and his expression was unreadable. Jonathan stared down at his hands as if fascinated by them.

“I…can’t pretend to know what’s happened. But I don’t want to hurt anyone,” he finally admitted to the darkness.

Sounds of movement reached his ears, causing him to twitch involuntarily. The whisper of fabric against fabric and a creak of protest from a seatbelt as Vendetta's posture shifted. A soft jingle from the keys in the ignition as the vampire's knee accidentally brushed against them. It took Jonathan a moment to realise Vendetta was waiting for him to do something—to either buckle up or get out—but he made no attempt to do so.

Apparently resigned, Vendetta replied, "You won't. If you take them by surprise, they'll never know you were there."

Jonathan grimaced. He didn’t appreciate the deadpan pun in the slightest. A tinge of annoyance leaked into his tone as he half-snapped, “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

“Starling, you are about to discover that we hurt the most those who we care the most for. Accept or wallow in it at your leisure; that’s your concern. If you want to survive this, you will learn to fight for it.”

Regret tugged bitterly at his gut. Not just because he didn’t want to be here but because there was a tiny, frustrated part of him that had to admit that he was right. But there had to be another way. He didn’t have to turn into Vendetta just to survive. …did he?

“Raquella told me about your offer. Before I agree or disagree, there’s something I need.”

“You’re in no position to demand things from me.”

“Neither are you,” Jonathan pointed out, trying to hide his discomfort behind a sharpness he didn’t currently possess. “I can keep Harry and Marianne from blaming you for my…” The words seemed to die in his throat. “I can do that much in exchange for your help. I need to see where you found me—I want to remember what happened.”

Vendetta remained silent, expression inscrutable. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Jonathan almost expected a refusal. It wasn’t as if Vendetta was naturally charitable. The moment passed and he saw the vampire nod towards Jonathan’s building almost imperceptibly.

“Collect your things. We’ll discuss your terms then.”